The SANFL has seen it share of interstate interlopers over the years. It’s hard for the rest of the nation to understand the attraction of the land of Balfours, Woodies, Amscol, Bung Fritz and Southwark (especially if all consumed at the one sitting). But for many, once they’d deposited their unconsumed apples and bananas in the fruit fly bins and learnt to avoid the use of their indicators when changing lanes, the move to Central Standard Time and short square boundaries changed their lives for the better.
In this series, I’ll be uncovering the boom recruits and the not so boom, those whose new address was Springboard Avenue, Last Chance Boulevard or Superannuation Street, and the occasional brother who was not “even better”after all.
In compiling this, I’ve wrestled with a few ground rules, such as
- Broken Hill is a part of SA for footy purposes, but Edenhope isn’t (The Meuret-Carman Rule)
- If you left, then came back, then you never left at all. (The Blight Rule)
- Only include a blow-in’s first SA club (The Keddie Rule)
- If in doubt, does it really matter? (The Content is King Rule)
I’ll be concentrating on the period 1960-1990, but I might go outside those boundaries occasionally.
I’ve only done a modicum of research, so, like the old fashioned Utility player in his zip up shorts, lace up guernsey and frayed jockstrap, be prepared to help plug what ever gaps need plugging to help get us over the line.
I’ll be separately covering each SANFL club’s interstate playing recruits, after commencing with a bonus edition covering imported club coaches.
Don’t expect Harvard referencing but I’ve backed up what was stored in my greying noggin with reference to
Football Times Yearbooks
SANFL Football Budget
Various club websites
From Poms to Premiers (Laidlaw and Mulholland)
Full Points Footy SA Footy Companion (Deveney)
Part 1 – The Coaches
Imported playing coaches, generally also captain, usually Victorian, often with premiership experience, were seen by many SANFL clubs as the best formula to capture a flag.
You will see from this list that while sometimes this approach helped make some good clubs better as a long term strategy, well, you make up your mind.
Some big names were lured, some delivered, others failed. A few remained in Adelaide after footy, a few were run out of town.
Centrals pulled a surprise when it appointed ex Melbourne premiership player Dennis Jones as non playing coach commencing in 1968. I was even more surprised to find out that Jones was barely aged 30 at the time, he looked far older than that to me. The Bulldogs showed steady improvement under Jones, taking them to a preliminary final in 1971, their first ever appearance in the final four since joining League ranks in 1964. The first semi-final win over Sturt stopped the Double Blues’ run of five flags, but that was the end of Jones’ time at Centrals. I’m not sure why he departed after that success, but he was snapped up by West Perth for the 73/74 seasons. He returned to his original club in 1978 as senior coach, only lasting the single season.
Tony Casserly had played two seasons at Goodman Road under Jones, after joining from East Fremantle in 1970, where he starred in their 1965 flag. ‘TC’ took over from Jones in 1972 becoming Centrals’ second captain-coach. Whilst not strictly a blow-in coach in these circumstances, Casserly’s reign coincided with my adolescence and my regular trips to away games on the famed Supporters’ Bus, so I had to include him here. The Dogs were mid-table performers after that, but Casserly remained a bastion of the Northern suburbs, through his real estate venture with his good mate and Centrals runner Barry Mitchell. And he gave me a free pair of footy boots at John Martins Elizabeth in 1972.
Larger than life footballing personality Kevin ‘Cowboy’ Neale came to Centrals in 1984 via a very successful period as Captain Coach of Ainslie in the ACT. Neale’s role in St Kilda’s 1966 Grand Final win meant that each of Centrals’ imported coaches thus far had been premiership players in their home state. Neale soon became a fixture on the after dinner circuit in SA; I was in attendance at a 1986 Young Accountants Conference in McLaren Vale when, after a few bottles of the local drop, Cowboy took it upon himself the harangue ‘those Doctor poofters’ who were also conferencing in an adjacent dining room.
Unlike Jones and Casserly, Neale couldn’t record a September victory for Centrals and was replaced by Kerls for the 1988 season.
Although the outside my self imposed timeframe, the red, white and blues went down the interstate path twice more, taking a punt on former South Melbourne rover Stevie Wright, who took Centrals to a Grand Final loss in 1996 and some yokel from Kaniva called Al Clarkson who was in charge of their second flag in 2001.
With a couple of earlier exceptions (Marcus Boyall 1940 and 1960, Betson in 1955) the Bays liked to employ locals as coaches. Doug Long, recruited from Geelong, was appointed captain-coach in 1962, despite being barely old enough to vote. However his Mount Gambier origins casts doubt on his blow-in status. This all changed in 1977 when they snaffled former Carlton coach John ‘Big Nick’ Nicholls, which was the SANFL’s highest profile coaching appointment for many years. A Grand Final loss to Port was the high point of Nicholls’ two colourful years at Brighton Road.
The Tigers had another lash over the border in 1983, installing former Fitzroy player and coach Graham Campbell as coach. He’d led West Perth to the 1975 pennant also. Things didn’t go to plan. Although popular with the players, the Glenelg hierarchy weren’t too chuffed about their 0-8 start to the season. He was briefly given the Tijuana, but player power convinced the board to reinstate their run-at-the-mouth leader and the Bays then made a late season dip towards the finals. Campbell’s team made the 1984 finals, but he still lost his spot, hanging around SA’s footy media for a couple of years after that.
A conversation between him, Gary Window and KG Cunningham would give the closed captioners permanent RSI.
Mike ‘Swamp Fox’ Patterson went straight from playing for Richmond to captain-coaching the ‘Cock of the North’ in 1970 with almost immediate results. His initial season’s fourth place was followed up by both the ’71 and ’72 flags and a memorable 1 point win over Carlton in the end of season ‘Champions of Australia’ final. That was the zenith of Patto’s eight years in charge at Prospect, the team’s fortunes linked closely to the form and fitness of Barrie Robran. Patterson was also known as Adelaide’s Kentucky Fried Chicken King, his Main North Road outlet catering to many a footy fan’s hunger for the Colonel’s secret recipe. All rather ironic considering his club’s mascot was Rocket Rooster.
Patterson headed back to the VFL as the St Kilda coach in 1978-1980 and had a year at Richmond (didn’t everyone?) in 1984, but could look back proudly at his time with North, achieving much more success than an earlier blow-in coach, Haydn Bunton Sr.
The Redlegs weren’t afraid to employ ex-Vics in their earlier years, and this was still going when Alan Killigrew signed on in 1959 after three years helming the Saints. In his four years at The Parade, ‘Killa’ turned over the playing list constantly, not afraid to bring in more blow-ins on the playing side. He even played a part in temporarily changing Norwood’s nickname to ‘The Demons’. Grand Final losses in 1960 and 1961 and 1962’s demise in the Prelim had the little dynamo thinking that his time was up and his next destination was North Melbourne. Like a whirlwind, the impression left by the ‘Hot Gospeller’ lasted well beyond the four years he spent coaching in SA.
Almost twenty years later, Norwood appointed Richmond player Neil Balme as coach. Balme didn’t play in 1980, his first year, but provided some extra oomph, biff and whack during occasional minor round appearances on the park in 1981 and 1982. Balme’s canny coaching belied his on-field reputation, capturing the TS Hill Premiership Trophy in 1982 and again in 1984 during the SANFL’s salad days. In fact, each of his eleven seasons at the ‘Legs saw September action. When the Eagles and the Warriors (nee Peckers) merged in 1991, he was their first coach, before returning to the AFL as coach of Melbourne.
Unsurprisingly, Port did not feel the need for coaching imports during the period under examination. In fact, they were part of a rare reverse blow-in when Collingwood appointed Jack Cahill as coach in 1983/84.
Technically, Dave Darcy shouldn’t qualify for this list. His 1972-74 coaching stint at the Panthers was preceded by his 1967 season as a player in the navy and white, but since I’m paid by the word I’ll include him here. Placings of ninth, ninth and eighth in those three years were all South had to show for Darcy’s time in charge (he was Captain-Coach in the first two years), but he became a fixture of Channel Nine’s footy coverage well into the 1970s, then discovering that money could be made from helping slake punters’ thirst
Darcy’s record pales into significance when contrasted with Don Scott’s six losing game blow-in blow-out record down South in 1985.
Merv Keane’s first year as Playing Coach at Unley, 1985, saw them knocked out by Westies in the first week of the finals, Keane was keen to stamp his own imprint on the playing list, with several long time Double Blue stars no longer certain to appear on the back page of Friday’s ‘Tiser (“Sturt kicking up, names underneath”). Two more years of rebuilding were followed by 1988’s return to the finals after the proverbial withering run home. Keane was not reappointed, causing deep ructions that lingered at the once proud club for the following decade.
Only a couple of years after Keane left, Sturt appointed Kevin ‘Who?’ Higgins for its forgettable 2-18 37.20% 1990 season. No one knew why.
In 1968, the Bloods introduced Murray Weideman as their Captain-Coach. The garrulous Victorian’s best playing days were behind him (he’d spent the past four years in the Ovens and Murray league), but his vigorous approach had a few locals taking short steps in his vicinity. Westies stocks rose, finishing fourth and third in “Weed’s” first two years, but once he replaced his boots for a clipboard, they slipped down the ladder. I am told that he was easy to spot at midweek sporting gatherings at Gawler, Balaklava or Murray Bridge.
Another big name Vic blew in to Richmond Oval in 1973, with 1971 Hawthorn flag hero Bob Keddie inserted as Captain-Coach. Although he won their B&F, the Blood n Tars took out the spoon and Keddie left to play for South Adelaide. There may have been a blow up somewhere along the way.
Kevin Morris gave up a plum career as Sheeds’ sidekick at Windy Hill to have a lash at reviving the Bloods’ fortunes in 1988. Slow but steady improvement (8th, 7th, 6th) followed, before almost hitting paydirt in 1991 in the first year of the Crows-weakened SANFL. Westies’ loss to North in a “fiercely contested” Grand Final was not enough for Morris to gain a fifth year, even though he had overseen a dramatic surge both before and into the major round. Morris was yet another victim of Westies’ ruthless approach.
One of the game’s most decorated players, Dick Reynolds, coached the Eagles from 1961 to 1963, but this fact has barely made an impression down the years. In fact, more people would be aware of the irascible Dick Jones’ time as Torrens main man a few years earlier than the three year stint by the triple Brownlow winner. Finishes of fourth, fourth and third (after finishing Minor Premiers) meant that not even King Richard’s reputation could save himself from the coaching chopping block after failing in each of his four finals.
A handful of years later and Essendon’s courageous rover John Birt came across to Thebarton as playing coach, after playing a key role in the Dons’ previous two flags. The high point was his second year, 1969, making the finals but losing the replayed First Semi Final against West after winning ten on the trot to make the final four. After dropping down again in 1970, Birt returned to coach at Windy Hill.
The well worn template was given another run in 1973, with ex-Richmond (wasn’t it always) star Billy Barrot taken on as captain-coach. As a player, he found it difficult to get on the park and when things turned ugly in 1974 (for reasons unknown), Barrot headed back to Oakleigh half way through the season. Unusually, Torrens were mid-table at the time and squeaked into the finals under stand-in coach and the world’s ugliest kick, Wayne Jackson.
I’ve included Glenn Elliott here, even though he originally blew in to Port Adelaide as a player only. His four ninths from 1982 through 1985 with the Eags didn’t actually see him shipped back home as he had a long career as an administrator at both the Roosters and the Tigers in the years to follow.
Noel Teasdale was yet another Victorian appointed as a Captain-Coach of a low performing club in the late 1960s. Teaser instantly became an Adelaide institution, dominating off the field with his popular city pubs such as the Newmarket, and in the NWS9 box with his gravelly no-nonsense special comments.
The Oval Avenue club didn’t have many wins, but he played a big role in the formative years of the likes of Blight, McKellar and Huppatz.
Barry Goodingham gets a mention under the Casserly clause, moving west from North via South in 1978 as a player and becoming the first coach to get Woodville into the finals in 1979 before his side slid south the following year.
Rod Olsson was called up next. His 50% coaching record at Geelong (after a stellar period with Sandy Bay) took a pummelling as the degree of professionalism that he attempted to impart at Oval Avenue wasn’t in keeping with the existent club culture. Four wins, two spoons in two years was the sad record of 1981-82.
Mike Patterson and Neil Balme both scored a pair of premierships for their respective clubs, unlike any of the remaining imported coaches during the period in question. This pair had the longest runs of the blow-ins, but in both cases, their success occurred at the front end of their tenure.
For the rest, some certainly helped improve their clubs, but this improvement was often fleeting. In some (basket) cases, the results were desultory.
As this series unfolds, feel free to share your memories of SANFL blow-ins both famous and obscure.